Encore Michigan

Review: The Language Archive at Theatre NOVA teaches real love language

Review February 16, 2023 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, MI–All language is communication. But not all communication has to be language. That could be a two-sentence review of Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, now playing at Theatre NOVA here.

George (Jeffrey Miller), is a nerdy language archivist who admits that he is more impacted emotionally by a language dying than people dying. Meantime, his marriage to Mary (Emily Wilson-Tobin) is becoming unglued largely, we see, because he has lost the plot on how to communicate with her. He is so oblivious that Mary has taken to leaving cryptic literary notes for him to find by chance. She is desperate to be heard, which is a common complaint from disaffected spouses.

The current project of George’s and his assistant, the besotted (with George) Emma (Monica Spencer) is studying Esperanto, and they have dragooned an aged married couple who are the last two people who speak it. Alta (Ellen Finch) and Resten (Rick Sperling,) the two are always squabbling, often about Alta’s  lousy cooking. Here, Cho is telling us that language is complicated and personal. They really do seem to love one another intensely despite the fusillade of insults and complaints.

Cho’s play feels a bit contrived at times, prompting an internal commentary with audience members, mumbling to themselves, “Oh, I see what you are trying to tell us here.”

George, at the same time he is bumbling his way through his own inept love language with Mary, is oblivious, it seems, to the love languages coming his way from Emma. It’s an irony festival.

There are some branch side plots , such as how Mary comes to own a bakery after meeting a stranger (Mr.  Sperling) in the railway station. Then, there is the stranger, an Esperanto teacher (Ms. Finch) who counsels Emma to make sure she communicates her love for George.

Directed by Carla Milarch, The Language Archive contains some eleoquent, even touching, language, bordering on prose about love and love language. And that is balanced with the “Fred and Ethel” Bickersons act by Sperling and Finch.

In the end, The Language Archive reminds us that it’s not enough to feel love. It has to be expressed. Too, it shows how neither passive aggressive, nor passive admiration, is legitimate communication. It’s better, it seems, to let it all hang out like Alta and Resten. The dying language they are teaching to George and Emma is honesty and genuine human engagement.

Week of 3/20/2023

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